By John W. Johnston
Community Development Manager
Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce
What I did not know prior to my #tryingwaketransit experience was that the New Bern Avenue bus corridor has existing 15-minute service. If the transportation referendum passes, there will be 66 additional miles of 15-minute service, and this route would be transformed into a BRT route, which includes dedicated bus lanes, priority treatment at traffic signals, and raised boarding platforms for convenience (among other benefits).
From the moment I stepped on the bus until the moment I got off, there were fewer than 10 seats available on the entire bus. Clearly, this is a high ridership route and expanded bus service and frequency will only benefit these existing riders, right? But what about the other routes around the county and the sentiment that the “busses are always empty?” I found myself wondering about these questions and how someone like me (known as a choice rider) would benefit from the transit plan. I asked Joe Milazzo, executive director of the Regional Transportation Alliance this question. Joe said that “the dedicated funding will provide more service to more places, and have more frequent pick-up times, so that more people will find it useful, and relieve congestion on our roadways.” Makes sense to me.
There are a few other elements of the transit plan that I couldn’t experience, such as the proposed 37-mile commuter rail line beginning in Garner, stopping in downtown Raleigh and at NC State University, continuing on through Cary and Morrisville, and ending in RTP. While not built yet, a “for” vote on the transit referendum will provide some of the funds needed to begin this service. I’m reminded of the “64 people each day” number (the daily population growth for our area), and can’t imagine an already clogged Interstate 40 handling over 200,000 additional cars in the next 10 years.
So I find myself, a “choice rider” (but one that would happily use transit if it were available, frequent, and reliable), presented with the option to vote “for” or “against” the public transportation referendum at the end of the General Election ballot. As Joe mentioned earlier, a vote “for” the referendum is a vote for a local, dedicated funding source—a half-cent sales tax increase to be exact—which will provide more service, frequent service, and reliable service.
After doing my homework, experiencing transit first-hand, and seeking answers to some of these questions that I’m sure many my age have (Millennials, represent!), I have decided to vote “for” the referendum. Why? To me, I can boil it down to an investment in our growing community. I’m fortunate enough to be in a position to have a reliable vehicle to go from place to place. However, many do not and rely on public transportation to go to the doctor or take their child to school. A vote “for” is a vote to empower these individuals and enable them to have reliable transportation to jobs and leisure activities.
But it extends much further than this. When I think of places I like to visit—San Diego, Boston, Pittsburgh—their public transportation system often comes to my mind. These are areas we are compared to frequently, and if we want to remain competitive and attract new people while remaining relatively uncongested, we must have reliable and frequent public transit options. Otherwise, we’re only doing ourselves a disservice. Raleigh and Wake County are growing, y ’all. Let’s make sure we choose to grow correctly.